Food Standards Agency reforms are not a ‘secret mission’

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

The FSA believes third-party hygiene audits need to be more robust
The FSA believes third-party hygiene audits need to be more robust
The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) reforms under its Regulating Our Future (ROF) programme are about making the Agency “fit for purpose” and not a “back door” way of shifting the full cost burden of inspecting food businesses onto the industry while making the FSA self-funding, according to its chair Heather Hancock.

Speaking to Food Manufacture​, Hancock categorically denied that the FSA’s real agenda in adopting a regulatory private assurance model under ROF – involving the greater use of third-party hygiene audits and data – was all about transferring the full costs of hygiene inspections onto businesses themselves and, ultimately, making the FSA self-funding, as some sources had suggested.

“We started this regulatory reform programme because what we are doing at the moment isn’t fit for purpose; it’s not keeping pace with the global food system; isn’t proportionate and is a one-size-fits-all process,”​ said Hancock.

“That’s the origin of it: how do we get to a future more robust, more proportionate and more sustainable model.”

‘It does not have a secret mission’

Hancock also asserted: “It does not have a secret mission, which is how do we introduce charging by the back door?”

However, she conceded that it was government policy for the cost of regulating business to be borne by the private sector itself, rather than the state. She also accepted that charging mechanisms would probably be reviewed at some future date.

“But before we get to the point at which we have to look at the extent to which industry currently contributes and may in future contribute to the cost of charging, we have to be certain we have made this system as efficient, effective, tailored and appropriate as possible – so that we are taking out any unnecessary cost,”​ she added.

The FSA’s Board meeting last month approved the development of an assurance framework for the ROF target operating model. But plans for a new role of a certified regulatory auditor, present in the original proposals, were shelved following widespread criticism from stakeholders, including local authorities, the food industry and consumer groups.

‘Sustainable funding model’

“We are endorsing the direction [the FSA executive is] taking here, setting out regulatory private assurance as a component of the overall assurance model,”​ Hancock told the Board meeting. “But sorting out the sustainable funding model and understanding the workforce capacity and skills demands alongside that are equal priorities.

“We really want to enforce the opportunity of strengthening the private assurance schemes so that they have a broader relevance and a higher bar in terms of hygiene, safety and standards.”

The FSA Board meeting also agreed to seek a collaborative review, together with other affected organisations and government departments, of the availability and provision of official control laboratories.

According to the Association of Public Analysts Laboratories, the number of laboratories across the country had fallen by 36% since 2010 and “three of the six public sector ones are facing severe threats”.

Meanwhile, watch out for ​the ​Big Interview with the FSA boss in the next edition of our sister title Food Manufacture.

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